In the two-and-a-half years since the release of the first-generation iPad, tablets of various shapes and sizes have sparked a revolution among consumers, who are now no longer afraid to take their touch-enabled tablets to work.
Tablet popularity is one of the reasons there has been such a steep decline in PC sales (the lethargic economy is also a factor). Research firms Gartner and IDC both confirm that PC shipments in the third quarter of 2012 experienced an 8 percent year-over-year decline, the biggest drop since 2001.
Yet the use of tablets in the enterprise is difficult to quantify. They often don't work as straight-up laptop replacements, especially for mainstream knowledge workers who use legacy apps, need a lot of computing power and have multiple apps running at once.
On the other hand, a tablet such as the iPad and even smaller tablets like Google Nexus 7 could work well as the main device for C-level execs, sales people and field service workers who are more mobile and do not create a lot of content.
Windows 8 's bigger tablet sizes, access to the full Office suite, more controlled security features and compatibility with legacy apps may conquer some of the previous tablet limitations, but it also comes with some drawbacks.
Microsoft will release two versions of Windows 8 for tablets. A power-efficient, ARM-based tablet running a Windows 8 variant called Windows RT will be released on Oct. 26 and be designed by both hardware partners and under the Microsoft name with the Surface tablet. Windows 8 Pro tablets, which will run a full version of Windows 8 and use Intel processors, will be released in January 2013.
Of the two, the Windows RT ARM-based tablets are less compelling for enterprise use, says Gartner analyst Leslie Fiering.
"The hardware for Windows RT tablets looks to be good, but the relatively high prices of these devices and lack of overall apps and lack of compatibility with Windows legacy apps are a concern for the enterprise," says Fiering.
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On the other hand, Windows 8 Pro tablets will have more legacy compatibility, and in general Windows 8 Pro tablets provide better security and networking features and Windows legacy app compatibility than current tablets. Yet these tablets are bound to be on the expensive side (prices for Windows 8 Pro tablets have not been announced yet).
Given the popular BYOD trend taking hold in the enterprise, there will be continued demand for iPads and Android tablet use at work, and to a lesser extent, Windows 8 tablet use. If IT groups are going to buck the BYOD trend and issue Windows 8 tablets to employees, there are many factors, both good and bad, to consider.
Here are some quick Windows 8 tablet pros and cons, according to a recent Gartner webinar entitled "iPad and Beyond: iPad Competition Emerges."
Windows 8 tablet pros
- Windows 8 is Microsoft's first Windows operating system where multi-touch capability for tablets was baked into the OS from the ground up.
- Windows 8 will feature security enhancements such as Secure Boot, BitLocker and AppLocker to encrypt the device and prevent malware and the unauthorized use of apps and software.
- The ability to run Windows 7 and Vista legacy apps (this applies to Windows 8 Pro, not Windows RT)
- Alignment with Windows 8 PCs and Windows Phone 8 smartphones. Microsoft will be the only company to offer the same platform across the PC, tablet and phone. This will potentially make life easier for developers, IT professionals and business users.
Windows 8 tablet cons
- Windows 8 has received negative reviews from critics and bloggers which have triggered negative perceptions.
- The Windows App Store (roughly 4,000 Windows Store apps) does not have enough apps compared to the Apple iTunes store (700,000 apps) and Google Play Store (600,000 apps).
- The tile-based Windows 8 Start screen is confusing to users and there will be a learning curve to get employees up to speed on the radically different Windows 8 user interface.
- ARM-based Windows RT tablets lack the computing power and legacy app compatibility to be a stand-out enterprise tablet.
Shane O'Neill is the assistant managing editor for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline.